Ask LH: How Can I Talk To My Phone In Public Without Looking Weird?

Ask LH: How Can I Talk To My Phone In Public Without Looking Weird?

Dear Lifehacker, I really like using voice control features on my phone, but have to admit I feel like a weirdo talking to my phone when others are around. Got any suggestions or etiquette rules I’m supposed to obey or ways I can look less creepy while talking to my phone? Signed, Speaking To Siri

Dear STS,

Having conversations with and controlling your phone with your voice is great, isn’t it? And yet, this new technology can also be quite unsettling or annoying, at least for eavesdroppers. Although most people could probably guess that you’re talking to Siri when you blurt out at your iPhone “Wake me up at 6.30am!”, here are some guidelines for using voice apps in public more appropriately and comfortably.

Note: Etiquette is fluid, and you may not be bothered by using your phone in this way. The way we interact with technology is always evolving, and some day, it may be perfectly naturally to consider a computer another member of a conversation. Until then, though, we present a few rules of thumb worth keeping in mind.

Don’t Use Voice Apps When You Could Be Talking To Real People

If you’re already talking to another human, try to avoid putting that conversation on hold to talk to your phone. It’s just weird and a little rude. When you’re with someone, don’t talk to or into your phone. It gets confusing and pushes the boundaries of digital etiquette, just as emailing or texting at dinner does. Unless you can find an urgent reason to start ordering your virtual assistant around and interrupt your meeting or date (we can’t think of any either), keep your phone in your pocket.

For Other Occasions, Treat the Voice App Like a Regular Call

When you’re on your own and in situations more conducive to dictating, the best thing to do is to just treat your conversations with your phone like you would a normal phone call. Consider the people around you and the situation you’re in: Would you take a phone call or use the speakerphone at that time and place? Then it’s probably not that weird to use your voice app here too.

For example, say you’re walking down the street and you want to ask your phone for directions. You’d probably take a phone call in that situation. Perfectly normal.

However, in a crowded lift when no one else is talking, it might be a bit awkward — or maybe even rude — to pull out your phone and start talking to it rather than just typing your message. Obvious situations and places you do not want to start talking to your phone include: in the cinema, during sex, and during a company meeting (see Gizmodo if you need further convincing).

Other ways to minimise annoyances for others (and awkwardness for yourself):

  • Hold the phone up to your ear or use headphones. With your iPhone, you can long-press your headphone button to activate Siri, and to talk to Siri like you’re answering a phone call, make sure to enable the feature that activates Siri when you hold your phone to your ear.
  • Use a 3 metre rule of thumb. PCWorld suggests: “Don’t talk to your phone if you’re within 10 feet (3m) of strangers in a quieter locale such as a restaurant or standing in line”
  • Follow basic mobile phone etiquette, such as not talking louder on the mobile phone than you would on a normal phone
  • Step away for privacy (the way you would at a party for a regular phone call)
  • If you find yourself having to repeat directions over and over again or you just keep getting bad answers, give up and go the old-fashioned typing route

Basically, treat using your voice app like a phone call, be considerate of the people around you, and you’ll be fine. The etiquette of talking to a phone is still evolving, but it’s not that strange, so don’t feel too self-conscious.


PS What are your thoughts on the etiquette of using Siri or other voice apps in public?

Got your own question you want to put to Lifehacker? Send it using our contact tab on the right.


  • The real answer: you can’t. You’re going to look like a knob. If the people near you are people you don’t mind looking like a knob in front of, go for it. Otherwise, just use your hands.

  • Voice control is nice for handsfree while driving, and when you don’t want to look at a bright screen before bed, everything it can do can be done easily if you can hold your phone, like in all the situations described above, so the real question is, why would anyone want to use it in public?

  • All “talking to your phone” type activity, whether it be wired headset, bluetooth or holding it up in front of you, is just the way they reduce the nation’s psychiatric care bill. They pioneered it in the UK in the years where wired headsets were all that was available. All you needed to do was to issue the crazies who talked to themselves or shouted abuse at invisible companions with a bead with a piece of black cable dangling from it. Once they stuck the bead in their ear and the other end of the cable into their pocket everyone just assumed they were talking to someone on their phone. Honest, it’s true, the called it “care in the community”.

  • I had to connect a bluetooth speaker to a mobile phone at work yesterday and I felt like an idiot telling the speaker “BlueAnt speak to me”. There wasn’t even anybody in my office or near yet I couldn’t help feeling like a knob! Clearly I’m more of a typing and buttons person.

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